Climate Change, Infrastructure and the Economy


Sep 15. 2017 (San Diego) Both Florida and Texas are starting the recovery from Harvey and Irma. Jose is offshore and could impact the American mainland. What we are seeing is the leading edge of climate change. It is true that President Donald Trump still refuses to accept the scientific reality of climate change. He was asked about it in Florida during his visit, and he said that storms this size were seen earlier in the 20th century. This is an argument made often by the Heartland Institute as well, who has done all it can to insert fear, uncertainty, and doubt on top the conversation. Their funding comes from the same industries that need the status quo to continue. Oh, never mind that some of these large transnationals, such as Exxon, have known of the effect of climate change. Yet, they chose to mislead the general public.


The cost of both storms will likely reach over a quarter trillion dollars. If we add Jose, depending on how much damage it does, we could be just south of half a trillion dollars. We admit these are not numbers that are easy to conceive of. However, we are watching a level of destruction, that will make these among the most expensive natural disasters in American history. Remember, Katrina was among the most expensive. Sandy was also very expensive. The drumbeat of expensive and impact of climate change will continue.


Potentially these storms could be part of a trigger to a recession. It makes no sense since rebuilding will produce some economic activity as well. Those affected by the storm, however, will not be able to consume at the same levels they used to. This is essential in an economic system still predicated on growth. Technically, just the losses, could cause negative economic growth in the economy this quarter, lessening economic prospects.


This is an expected effect of climate change. It will impact how we think of the economy in significant ways. Nor are we taking into account higher death rates in areas affected, or the fact that actual human lives were lost. Our economic system is not designed to do that. Our public health care system should. Given that both of the areas affected are well within the range of mosquitoes that carry tropical diseases, including Zika and Dengue, that could be a medical concern in months to come. Years, if pregnant women deliver babies who are microcephalic.


This brings us to recovery. One thing we know helps to mitigate the effects of storms are wetlands. Building again on what once were wetlands is not something local governments should allow people to do. However, this will be a hard pill to swallow, those properties must be condemned at fair market value, giving a chance for people to move out. Any future development has to take into account more frequent storms. Meaning, mitigation, and planning for building on higher ground has to become standard. Then there is an obvious question, how long until the insurance industry refuses to write up policies for houses that keep flooding? It is not something that I can blame them for. Any intelligent self-serving economic actor will not want to keep incurring losses. Climate change will force a point when neither insurance companies or banks will continue to fund properties that will continue to flood. In the end, they might be lost under the waters.


Wetlands must become part of the infrastructure plan and they must be reseeded, and maintained by cities near coastlines. Raised roadways, like Miami, is doing, is also a good idea. That is a short-term fix though, in the case of Miami, with predicted sea rise, we expect the city to be under water before this century is over. So planning for a coming influx of climate refugees must start now. We already have serious issues with homelessness. Whole cities becoming deserted as the waters come in will complicate matters. It will also imply trillion level losses.


Texas also has to accept that no regulations can complicate matters, greatly. The Arkema chemical plant could not be responded to. But we have two questions. What was it doing so near housing? And why didn’t first responders know what was stored there? It is not common sense to build chemical plants near housing. Any accident can lead to major loss of life, nor is this the first time. Texans, and in particular those on the far right, might be libertarians who hate government. The first function of government is to protect human life. Allowing chemical plants that close to housing is failing that test of government. With climate change, governments will have to plan for situations like this one, and first responders should know what is stored at a plant regardless of what the weather has in store. How do you expect responders to attend to an emergency in a competent fashion if they have no idea?


Also at first, we were told that they had chemicals that were not that dangerous. Some of us took them at their word. The lesson is that we can’t. Health and safety should not be a partisan, or political issue. It has become such, because of resentment and propaganda. Climate change might just shift that dynamic as well.

There is one more thing. As climate change accelerates, and researchers look at the data, we now know we have a 5 percent chance that we could be under existential threat.

 Even if that objective is met, a global temperature increase of 1.5°C (2.7°F) is still categorized as “dangerous,” meaning it could create substantial damage to human and natural systems. A temperature increase greater than 3°C (5.4°F) could lead to what the researchers’ term “catastrophic” effects, and an increase greater than 5°C (9°F) could lead to “unknown” consequences which they describe as beyond catastrophic including potentially existential threats. The specter of existential threats is raised to reflect the grave risks to human health and species extinction from warming beyond 5°C, which has not been experienced for at least the past 20 million years.


We are talking potentially of human extinction. This should put pressure on political leaders. San Diego and California are leading the way. But we need to act for the sake of our grandchildren. This has to be global.


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